Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George dunks during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets, Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)

Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

Paul George totaled 45 points and 11 rebounds to help the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Houston Rockets 117-112 on Saturday at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Russell Westbrook added 21 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists, tying the NBA record for most consecutive triple-doubles with Wilt Chamberlain. 

His efforts were huge for the 36-19 Thunder, who were losing by 24 points early in the third quarter. They have now won 10 of their last 11.

James Harden scored 42 points for the 32-23 Rockets, whose three-game win streak ended Saturday night. He has now scored 30 or more points in 29 straight games. Chris Paul contributed 18 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists.


Paul George Deserves All-NBA First Team Spot

With the trade deadline come and gone and the All-Star teams decided, attention can divert to the playoffs, season-ending awards and speculation about where stars will land this summer.

As far as the second category goes, a strong debate will ensue for some of the league’s first-team spots.

Focusing on the two forward slots, five candidates are a cut above the rest: Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Giannis Antetokounmpo and George.

Antetokounmpo‘s spot is locked in. His Milwaukee Bucks are first in the Eastern Conference after finishing seventh last year, and the Greek Freak is averaging 27.0 points, 12.5 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game.

He and Harden are the co-favorites for the NBA MVP, with Sekou Smith of NBA.com recently ranking him No. 1.

James has once again been exceptional in his 16th NBA season, but the 28-27 Lakers are on the outside looking into the playoff race.

Granted, players who have been on middling (or worse) teams have made the first team, but with the competition so fierce this season, that could potentially be a factor in deciding who makes the team when the difference between the superstars is so thin. 

Then it’s down to three.

Leonard has enjoyed a great campaign with 27.3 points, 7.9 rebounds and 1.9 steals for the 41-16 Raptors, who are second in the Eastern Conference. At its best, Toronto can beat any team in the league and took down Golden State twice.

Durant deserves a ton of credit for his efforts this year with Stephen Curry and Draymond Green missing 11 and 15 games, respectively. The 39-15 Warriors are first in the Western Conference, and KD is averaging 27.3 points, 7.1 rebounds and 6.0 assists.

But George has a razor-thin edge on the rest. He’s averaged a career-high 28.3 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.3 steals per game. A place on the All-NBA Defensive team seems inevitable. Meanwhile, the Thunder are third in the Western Conference and are much improved after last year’s first-round playoff exit finished a 48-34 campaign.

Furthermore, George has been an offensive constant with Westbrook struggling from the field. Of course, Westbrook contributes in numerous ways, with his 22nd triple-double serving as evidence for his passing and rebounding talents. But he’s hit just 41.5 percent of his field goals and 24.6 percent of his threes.

George has made 45.3 percent of his field goals and 41.5 percent of his threes. And on nights like Saturday, he and Westbrook can simply take over games, like when they overcame a 24-point third-quarter deficit.

George was scorching hot from the field, to the point where he even outscored Harden:

A few other reasons for George’s first-team candidacy exist as well. The team is No. 3 in defensive efficiency even though stalwart defender Andre Roberson has been out all year due to injury. The Thunder have some excellent signature wins with George prominently involved (e.g. Saturday and the four-point play to beat the Philadelphia 76ers back in January). And the Thunder look like they are going to roll past the Denver Nuggets into second place in the West.

But some numbers are on George’s side too. Per ESPN.com, he’s No. 2 in real plus-minus (behind only Harden), No. 1 in real-plus minus wins and No. 1 among small forwards in defensive real plus-minus.

Really, one can’t go wrong with picking James, Durant, Leonard or George alongside Antetokounmpo for the first-team spot, but after Saturday, PG-13 has taken the lead.


What’s Next?

Both teams play Monday at home. The Thunder will face the Portland Trail Blazers, and the Rockets will host the Dallas Mavericks. 

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